Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Anatomy of an Unfunded Mandate:

Rural Texas county slated to build a new $10 million jail

When it comes to building a new jail - something taxpayers
are not all that sure they even need - it takes quite a
sales job to get the project completed in some reasonable
fashion. After all, nothing happens until the sale is made.

Just ask the Ft. Worth man who has the job of planning and
designing - and finding the way to pay for - Bosque County's
new Law Enforcement Center and County Jail.

He has a lot of experience and he will be glad to tell you.

In fact, that's why he was speaking to a select group of
citizens at the Courthouse this week.

"It's the guy you don't ask who becomes your biggest 'again-
er,'" the architect told a grim-faced gathering of County
Commissioners and jail development committeemen.

"If I don't bring out all the possible parties, I'm going to
know it."

That's why Jeffrey E. Hefflefinger strives to involve the
community at every turn and twist of the critical path to
completion of jails mandated by the requirements of the
Texas Commission on Jail Standards.

His Fort Worth firm has built jails in towns all across the
state. Current projects trip off the tongue like locations
in Larry McMurtry's epic novel, Lonesome Dove.

In fact, Southwest Architects, Inc., are presently at work
developing a Law Enforcement Center in McMurtry's hometown,
the location of "The Last Picture Show," and "Texasville,"
Archer City. It will be a 24,800 square foot Law Enforcement
Center and County Jail.

Then, there is the Brewster County Justice Center in the Big
Bend community of Marathon - 1,600 square feet, and the
Terrell County Convntion Center at Sanderson on the Rio
Grande - 1,500 square feet.

These completed projects have hefty price tags. They built
the Bill Clayton Detention Center at Littlefield, an 89,000
square foot jail project they brought in on budget for $8.6

* Hays County Juvenile Center, 96 beds in San Marcos - $5
million for 43,000 square feet
* Howard County LEC, 144 beds developed for $10.5 million -
39,925 square feet at Big Spring
* Lynn County LEC at Tahoka, 48 beds, 17,615 square feet,
$2.2 million
* Pecos County LEC at Ft. Stockton, 54 beds, $3.5 million
* Rains County, 5,000 square feet,, 32 beds $500,000
* Somervell County LEC, Glen Rose, 18,712 square feet, 48
beds, $3.25 million
* Wise County LEC, 86,000 square feet, 216 bed addition 120
bed remodel, $11 million
* Yoakum County LEC at Plains, 26,850 square feet, 48
beds, $5.5 million
* Young County LEC, Graham, 144 beds, 54,000 square feet,
$12 million
* San Jacinto LEC, 14,000 square feet, a 93 bed addition -
$5 million

Turnkey construction costs average anywhere from $95 per
square foot to $125.

"The facility to be constructed will be approximately 30,000
square feet and will house the County Court at Law, Justice
of the Peace Court, the Sheriff's Offices and the County
Jail," according to a document prepared by the architect.

Later, they approved limiting the scope of the project to a
Law Enforcement Center and Jail only. They feel that the
County Court at Law and Justice Courts are well provided for
in the Courthouse.

The architect explained that it's usually much cheaper to
install a "video court." But it depends on what the judges
want. "Some of them want the defendant behind bullet proof
glass" when they charge him. "Others want him on a video
screen and still others want to get right in his face and
shake their finger at him."

Officials propose to build a jail that will house as many as
96 inmates - to begin with. There will always be a demand
for more space as the population increases. That's a key
factor when it comes to costs.

"After all, we have a lot of people from the Metroplex who
visit us at Lake Whitney," said Judge Cole Word. "We're a
recreation center what with deer hunting and fishing."

Square footage and cubic space are important figures. Each
inmate must be given a minimum amount of square feet of
space in which to live and a minimum amount of cubic feet of
breathing room.

It's all geared to making sure an inmate is housed securely
in humane conditions and not subjected to any cruel or
unusual punishment while awaiting justice.

But that's not all. True costs include sophisticated forms
of smoke detection. It's not fire that kills, it's smoke.
There are automatic electronic locks to buy and install,
video surveillance cameras and monitors, telephones and
intercoms, fire-rated doors and escape proof windows and
skylights, special plumbing, wiring and ventilation systems.

Infrastructure is paramount when it comes to planning a new
jail - one that will stand up to standards.

"It's like building a house and including a spare bedroom
for that unexpected child," Mr. Heffelfinger said. "Then
there's all the new items you will buy and need to store.
Nothing you have is ever good enough in a new house...Think
about it."

It's better to build with a view to the future and the
growth in population that will force expansion than it is to
have to start over from scratch and install new water,
sewer, electrical, communications and electronic systems.

It's not only easier, it's inevitable and cheaper by huge
percentage points.

Ask the man; he knows. It's what he does for a living and
he's paid by the job, not by a percentage of what is spent.

"We make the same amount of money whether we save you a lot
of money - or not. We have no incentive not to bring a job
in on budget or below."

First things first.

How do you pay for this bespoke prison space mandated by
faceless state bureaucrats who have tailored their
regulations to legislation, Federal case law and other
factors, factors which cannot be ignored, such as
Constitutional strictures against cruel and unusual

Costs are high and sinking fund debt service on bonds or
certificates of obligation are bound to go up.

It's crucial to keep one eye on the tab and the other on the

You start by hiring someone with some savvy to run the job.
That's why the Bosque County Commissioner's Court retained
Southwest Architects. They build jails.

County Judge Cole Word told the Court and committee members,
"Time is money."

Mr. Heffelfinger chimed in. If they start down the critical
path this month, the project could be completed by July of
2011. If they hold out for a bond election in November of
this year, the project would be delayed until April of 2012.

It's called critical path for a reason.

It's a concept developed by a World War One Naval officer
and architect from Chicago, an engineer and visionary - R.
Buckminster Fuller, the designer of the first geodesic

Why is the path of progress so critical? Because there's a
catch. As ever, it involves money.

"I expect interest rates to go up...In the fall, you might
see a point to a point and a half," he said. Statutes
require any bond election to take place on the day of the
General Election, November 8. The delay could cost the
people as much as a half million dollars in debt service - a
cost they could easily avoid, according to the architect.

"I don't know if that's a good thing, or not," Judge Word
interjected. He spoke in terms of waiting for the election.

"It's never a good time," replied Mr. Heffelfinger. "You
take it out of the realm of a pubic project and make it into
a personal thing."

Sometimes people try to avoid the painful process.

After all, the average citizen, the hardworking property
owner and business operator, the one who has to pay the bill
for all this, is not usually that concerned about the care
and feeding of accused drunk drivers, wife beaters,
murderers, robbers, rapists, child molesters, arsonists, or

A nearby community balked, he said. Finally, the state came
down on them hard. "If you don't build, we're gonna close
you down."

That would mean having no jail whatsoever - or, that is,
having a jail and not being able to use it because of its
substandard design characteristics.

Their only alternative would have been to ship their
prisoners off-site, housing them in a neighboring county's
jail for a price, plus the added expense of transporting
them back and forth for court appearances, medical care,
interviews with law enforcement officers, and the like.

"They checked and you know what? It was cheaper for them to
build than it was to ship."

To mandate a bond election, it is required that five percent
of registered voters must sign a petition. By the time
electiion judges examine each and every signature for its
authenticity, the truth of the registration and the like,
you could wind up with a very small percentage of the
signatures you have collected. He's seen it happen.

Meanwhile, the debt service interest rate clock is always
ticking. Time takes no holiday when it comes to money.

In view of Federal Reserve Chairman Bernanke's recent
remarks, he predicts that the prime interest rate can only
go up.

The only solution is utter public transparency, according to
Judge Word, a fifth generation County Judge whose family has
been in the legal, land abstract and title services
profession about as long as there has been a Bosque County

That is why the Commissioner's Court appointed a committee
of ten men to oversee the entire process - from financing
and site selection to cutting the ribbon on opening day.

What's the alternative?

Certificates of Obligation may be issued by the
Commissioner's Court under the same basic rules - except
they don't require the approval of voters. If you issue
them now, when rates are low, you won't be burdened by
unexpected interest costs.

It makes it much, much easier to plan to do something you
have no choice in doing, anyway. It's something that must
be done and it has to be paid for. Why not choose the
method whereby you lose the least, Mr. Heffelfinger asked
the group of citizens charged with oversight.

"If you have an election, it takes the Court out of this
process." What's more, he argued, once an election is
slated, members of the Commissioner's Court are precluded by
law from making any comments, pro or con, about the planning
and development of the people's new County Jail.

So there are many tips, tricks and techniques available to
keep the people's elected representatives and their
constitutents in control.

For instance, who will supervise the construction?

You can go two routes. You can act as your own general
contractor, riding herd on as many as 60 to 100 subs and
using a construction supervisor, or you can hire a
Construction Manager At Risk.

How does that work?

He works for a set price. He doesn't cut his own throat by
cutting costs, so there's no incentive to complicate
matters. Plus, this way, you deal with only one contractor.
He deals with the rest of the subcontractors.

Planned expansion through existing infrastructure is a key
element of Southwest Architects' work, according to Mr.

If you have infrastructure already existing to 96 beds and
only 72 inmates, there's really no problem. You can use the
extra space for storage. When it's time to expand, it
already exists.

Multi-purpose locker and conference spaces can double as
work stations for outside agencies such as DPS, Game
Wardens, FBI, DEA and Texas Rangers.

This way, every officer can have a work station without
furnishing a private office for each one. Corrections
officers and patrol officers can double up on the use of
locker, conference and office space.

A sallyport for patrol cars that does not require a juvenile
prisoner be led through the adult jail facilities to a DWI
breath-a-lyzer and blood collection room is paramount.
Under state laws, juveniles may not be required to even walk
through an adult jail.

Not only that, but there is a distinct need for medical
facilities that will double up in the blood collection area.

"Not everyone who drinks a half gallon of whiskey wants to
donate their blood," quipped Judge Word, causing a moment of
comic relief.

Then there's the style of design. There are linear
cellblocks and there are "pods" with central control units
in their center. Which is best?

When it comes to overall design, staffing is a key to costs
because of state laws which require a minimum number of
officers to supervise and control any given number of

"It's not how many beds you have that matters," said Mr.
Heffelfinger, "it's the number of inmates you have at the

For instance, after hours, a dispatcher can double as a
corrections officer if the dispatcher has been properly
cross trained and certified.

"You can control a modern pod jail with a PC no bigger than
that one," he said, pointing to a laptop computer on the
conference table in the Commissioners' Courtroom.

Critical path, construction manager at risk, and citizen
planning committees are representative of "an evolution of
the industry," according to Mr. Heffelfinger.

Transparency between the county government and the citizens
is a matter of communication.

Communication is a matter of information.

The Court took its first steps at the meeting.

They appointed a three-man subcommittee headed by David Duke
to select and investigate possible building sites.

The site will have to be located within two miles of the
Courthouse under state regulations, be an estimated 5 to
seven acres in size and be best located for development of
infrastructure - road access, electrical, water and sewer
service, radio communications and a minimal impact on the
surrounding commmunity.

"You don't want to have officers responding to an emergency
at the jail running hot through school zones to get back
there in a hurry," the architect explained.

An advertisement for a Financial Advisor to draw up the
certificates of obligation and issue them got their
approval, subject to a review by the County Attorney. The
Court stipulated that in this position, only the County
Judge will communicate with candidates for the position.
The avoidance of confusion is a key to good communications.
The commissioners gave their assent.

They also approved an advertisement for a Request For
Qualifications for the position of the Construction Manager
at Risk, also subject to the approval of the County

A field trip to the Howard County LEC, the 144-bed jail at
Big Spring, for the committee members and County
Commissioners is scheduled for January 13. They will tour
the 39,925 square-foot facility, built at a cost to
taxpayers of $10.5 million.

It's a project similar in scope and size to Bosque County's
proposed new LEC and Jail.

Questionnaires for each department and phase of the project
are approved and committee members will be working with
representatives of the Sheriff's Department, the Emergency
Services Coordinator, the communications staff, the Courts
and Clerks to determine exactly what they want in each case.

Citizen members of the committee are:

Gene Blakely
Tom Bratcher
David Duke
George Hallmark
Larry Harian
Tom Henderson
Don Howard
Bruce McCombs
Olenn Morrison
Dick Owens

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